Keeping LGBT youth alive

The Trevor Project runs the only national 365-days-a-year hotline for LGBT youth—or any adolescent—who’s considering suicide. Logging 1,000 calls a month at 866-4-U-TREVOR, the help line is a vital resource at the holidays and all year long.

BY Ryan James Kim

December 22 2005 1:00 AM ET

Why have you stayed with this project for four and half years?I personally have lost two friends to suicide. One of
them I know was gay. So there’s a personal
connection there right off the bat. But it is in
understanding the statistics, and the potential of a 95%
chance of saving someone’s life through
interfacing with a suicidal teen—that’s
what keeps me here. I go home at the end of the day and know
we’ve done our job if just one life is saved.

Where is the Trevor Project headed? What are some of the
ways it can expand?
We’re hoping to launch a program which we will
call “Trevor Lifeguards.” Many teenagers
are still not comfortable talking to their families or
their teachers about their suicidal thoughts. At the end of
the day, teenagers can feel especially alone when [their
situation is] augmented with the fact that
they’re gay or questioning. What we’re
hoping to do is start mobilizing our youth to be lifeguards
with one another. What we want to do is go to schools
and train students to see the suicidal signs among
their peers, and also how to help them to identify a
counselor or teacher whom they can work with, so if they do
see someone, they can be helped. It is our goal in 2006 to
mobilize young people to start becoming lifeguards of
one another’s lives—that’s where
the name comes from.

What are you most hoping will happen in 2006 to improve
the lives of LGBT youth?
I sure hope the political climate changes. I worked in
the Clinton administration, and every administration
has its bumps—the “don’t ask,
don’t tell” policy under the Clinton
administration, for instance. Even so, I don’t
see the political climate getting any better. In fact, I
think it’s going in the opposite direction. When you
have teens who don’t feel safe about what
they’re going through, an unaccepting political
environment only makes them more anxious and creates more of
a depressive state. I can’t help but hope that
the political climate changes so it’s acceptive
of all types of people.

In addition to Trevor, where else can LGBT youths look
for help and support?
There are a number of organizations that do
great work. If someone is looking for peers and for
straight allies in their schools, nobody does it
better than GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education
Network; http://www.glsen.org]. They [have
helped create gay-straight alliances] in thousands of high
schools across the nation. That offers support in the
schools. There are also mentoring programs.
There’s one in Los Angeles, for instance, called
Life Works. They do a wonderful job [training] out LGBT
persons to mentor. For homeless youth [in Los
Angeles], there’s GLASS [Gay and Lesbian
Adolescent Social Services, which provides housing and other
programs for homeless or runaway adolescents]. All of us
[LGBT youth help organizations] work together.
Trevor’s goal, though, is first and foremost to
keep youth alive, and while many of them are not comfortable
talking to anyone they know, 30% of our callers are repeat
callers, which means we keep them alive day-to-day.

What strategies can you offer to isolated or depressed
LGBT youth for getting through the holidays?
There are always signs of depression during the
holidays, but I think there are many ways that anyone
can help. The most important is talking about suicide
if you see the signs. Oftentimes people are scared to talk
to someone directly about suicide because they’re
afraid of introducing ideas into their head, but
that’s completely the opposite [of what’s
true]. The more you talk about it, the more likely they are
not to attempt suicide. Don’t be afraid to talk
about suicide. And of course, our hotline is open
every single day of the year in case anyone needs to
talk to us confidentially.

How can Advocate readers help? Donations on our Web site are always
appreciated. Over 90% of our revenue is individual
giving, and that speaks volumes about the work we’re
doing and the importance of keeping our teens alive.
We also have numerous volunteer opportunities. We have
over 400 volunteers that help us year-round, and
we’re always looking for more volunteers on our Web
site.

Any final words?In our minds there is no greater gift than the gift of
life, and, to us, directing someone who is considering
suicide to our help line is the best gift anyone can
give anyone. At the end of the day, one cannot measure
the potential of a single life. And I hope readers
understand that.

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